Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finally wins one, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone

Photo by NASCAR/Getty Images

By Yvonne Jones, Staff Writer

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Even Stevie Wonder could have seen Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s first win coming. Especially at Talladega Superspeedway.

After 158 starts, Stenhouse finally notched his first career victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in the Geico 500 at Talladega on Sunday. And it came at a track known for producing first-time winners.  Stenhouse is the 11th driver to break through at the 2.66-mile Alabama oval.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Stenhouse, who has an average finish of 10.4 at ‘Dega. “We’ve run really well here at Talladega.  This is the closest race track to home.  I got a lot of cheers riding around here today and the fans were awesome.  We had a lot packed in here at Talladega and it felt old-school.”

Owner Jack Roush hadn’t been in Victory Lane since June 22, 2014, when Carl Edwards won at Sonoma.

“Man, to finally get that win for Jack and everyone on our team is really special.”

But the signs were all there that Stenhouse was close. The No. 17 Ford driver and Roush entered the season showing improvement after downsizing to a two-car operation with just Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne. Stenhouse had four top 10s all of last season. Through 10 races in 2017, he already has five.

“This is for all the guys at the shop,” he said. “We’ve been terrible for a long time.  This year, every race we’re getting better and better.”

The win clinched a playoff spot for Stenhouse and he dedicated it to Bryan Clauson, a Chip Ganassi Racing development driver and one of his best friends, who died from injuries sustained in a car race last year.

“We knew that Talladega was a good race track for us,” Stenhouse continued. “It’s been a good one in the past and I’m just glad we parked it for my buddy, Bryan Clauson.  He was with us on that last lap.  This Fifth Third Bank Ford was so fast today – qualified on the pole and got the win.”

The pole was Stenhouse’s first since 2013, his first full season in the Cup series. He won eight times in the Xfinity Series.

“It was awesome,” he said. “It’s been a long time since I pulled into Victory Lane.  I had to ask Brad Keselowski how to start a race on the pole.  It’s been a long time since we started from the pole there.”

After leading the first 13 laps, Stenhouse didn’t lead again until the last one, when he battled two Cup champs late.

“This Monster Energy Cup Series is so fun to race in and just glad to see Jack smiling here in Victory Lane,” Stenhouse said. “I know he’s been wanting this for a long time, so to be up there with Jimmie [Johnson] and Kyle [Busch] racing as hard as we did, and we beat some good ones today.”

Teammate Bayne has also been better this season. He ran well on Sunday before getting caught up in a 18-car wreck on Lap 169. Bayne has top 15 finishes in four of his past five starts.

“There’s a lot of difference,” Stenhouse said. “The culture at our shop is just different.  The guys want to work there.  They want to show up to work and work harder. They’re seeing that working harder is making different results for us, so it’s been a blast for Trevor [Bayne] and myself to drive these race cars each week. “

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